Mysterious ways, indeed....
by Lainie Lee and Erin Halfelven
Cheryl knew the dark man, Terry was his name, wanted her. She could feel it, strangely. And she wanted him, which seemed even stranger. Something inside her responded to his need. She smiled at him, wondering vaguely if she had ever had sex before. Somehow, she thought that she must have; just not with a man.
What did that mean? With a woman?
Heavy curtains kept out a bright midsummer day, and the motel room stayed dark. The only interior light came from an overhead light in the bathroom where the rattling ventilator fan competed with the groan of the air conditioner to wrap two people in sensory isolation.
He stood abruptly and moved to sit on the bed beside her, her long thigh alongside his, thin layers of cloth between them.
She leaned toward him, opening her mouth slightly. She could still taste peanut butter and jelly. She wondered if he would be able to taste it if he kissed her. Did she want him to kiss her? Yes, she did which surprised her. She’d never been kissed by a man before.
Had she? No. She leaned closer and Terry leaned toward her one arm going around her back.
* * *
The boys, Gerald Jones’s young friends, spent a miserable day moping around the transition company compound with light hangovers, standing in lines to collect new issue jungle clothing or to get shots to protect them from tropical diseases. Twice they had roll calls which Gerry missed, but no one seemed overly concerned.
They were asked three times if they had seen or spoken to Private Jones or knew anything about where he might have gone but no one pressed them hard on the issue, and they didn’t have to mention the girl they had found in the bathroom.
“Covered in slime,” Vance murmured during a short window where they moped around the enormous dayroom, sitting under the wall of windows.
“Huh?” said Jack. The huge room had three televisions in pride of place against each of the other walls. One screen showed a game show that kept grabbing Jack’s attention with the antics of the contestants.
“The girl, she was covered in slime….”
“There was no girl,” Buddy pointed out. “I thought we agreed on that.”
Paul snorted, though whether at the comment or at something happening in the soccer game he was watching on another of the distant screens.
“Where did the slime come from?” asked Vance. “And how come there was no trail of it dripping, leading up to where we found her?”
Jack shrugged. Buddy frowned. Paul grunted again.
Vance looked around. “We’ve got roll call again at seventeen hundred,” he said, meaning five p.m. in military lingo. “If Gerry isn’t at formation, then…he must have ditched.”
They nodded at each other, simultaneously worried and relieved for their friend. He wouldn’t be catching their flight out at three a.m., 0300 hours. He wouldn’t be going to Viet Nam with them, but he might eventually be going to prison. If he got caught.
* * *
Sergeant Polk dozed on the plane that had already left. It would be a long flight, more than 20 hours. First, they would stop in Seattle, then Anchorage. The longest hop was next, from Alaska to Kyoto, Japan. A shorter leg to Taipei and finally, Saigon. The DC-8 was specially modified to carry more passengers, about 250 G.I.s plus a crew of ten or so. The name on the side he’d seen when entering had been FTA. Which stood for Flying Tiger Airlines or Fuck The Army, take your pick.
He dreamed as he often did of Hoa and Kim waiting for him, of marrying Hoa and taking Kim back to the states with him to raise. The child had his coloring and her mother’s eyes; she would be a beauty some day. He dreamed of sending his daughter off to college one day, tall and slim, darkly exotic, the image so vivid he could almost reach into the dream and touch her.
He smiled in his sleep.
* * *
Nora contemplated her partner as they drove away from the bakery cafe. Piers had been working with her now for over three weeks. He must have a will of iron, she thought. No one else had been able to stay close to her for so long before this. Maybe the pheromone cloud she generated had weakened somewhat. Or maybe Piers was just made of stronger stuff than the last nine partners who had endured being paired with her. One guy had given up after only three days, asking to be reassigned.
Eventually, she knew, it would wear Piers down. Already she could see that he thought about sex with her a lot. Maybe she should call their bosses and have him transferred out now before the breakdown she knew would be coming.
But it wasn’t only Piers that thought of sex—a lot. She wanted him, too.
His ginger-blond complexion was not suited to the climate of Louisiana and his blue eyes looked pale and watery when he took off his sunglasses indoors. He had a receding hairline showing a sharpened widow’s peak. His left ear had a mole high on the outside curve. His nose made a whistling noise when he ran. When he thought he was alone, he whispered the lyrics of Beatle songs to himself, no tune but getting the rhythm right.
She loved everything about him and lusted to see him naked. It would break him. Sex with her nanimal-enhanced body was highly addictive. That worked both ways; she was addicted to it, too.
She could bear up better than a mere human, though. Maybe she needed to get out and run, sweat out some of the stuff the little beasties inside her produced. Sweets, violent exercise, and self-gratification were the only outlets she had that would not destroy a good agent.
Time to send Piers away and request a new partner. They wouldn’t let her work alone. They were right, the responsibility of having a partner kept her grounded in the job. But it certainly wasn’t fair to him.
And yet, she knew they had no trouble finding volunteers to take the assignment. A few minutes with her and every healthy human male wanted more of her company. She’d made them stop sending her out with married agents; she didn’t need that kind of guilt.
They’d tried a female partner twice, not that the agency had a glut of female operatives, but both times that had been a disaster. Heterosexual women could not handle the attraction she generated; it made them uncomfortable, then bitchy, then either violent or—well, that second experiment had ended in a rather memorable orgy after her partner had invited the trucker they had been following to join in a threesome.
She smiled, wondering vaguely if Rhoda had ever made it back to a stateside assignment.
Piers made a noise. He’d been taking sideways glances at her. She turned her smile on him and watched with a bit of guilt as he evidently dealt with a sudden dry mouth. If he’d been about to say something, he’d most likely forgotten it.
She shouldn’t enjoy making men stammer and sweat, but she did.
* * *
Cheryl and Terry kissed and fondled each other on the dim bed in the soft motel room. She began undressing him, and he helped her. Then they both stood, he to drop his pants and she to take her simple dress off over her head.
That riot of chestnut hair fell around her, and he saw that she had not been wearing underwear. Nothing contained her plentiful treasures, the heavy globes of her breasts, the wide invitation of her hips. The whiteness of her skin….
That did give him a moment of pause. This might be the 1970s less than twelve miles from San Francisco but he was still a black man, and she was a white woman. The thing that relieved his paralysis was telling himself that she must be a hooker. She hadn’t been wearing even panties under her dress and then there was the fifty dollar bill she had casually handed him in exchange for the sandwiches. Who kept fifties around? Well, servicemen often took their pay in fifties and hundreds and the whores of Oakland ended up with them, often as not.
But she had given him the money. He laughed softly, and she smiled at him then they both fell on the bed.
* * *
Sex, reflected Cheryl afterward, was a lot of fun. She’d enjoyed every bit of it and maybe the quiet languor that followed just as much as anything else. She seemed to have worn out her partner, though. Terry dozed against her shoulder, the rough stubble of his beard tickling against her soft skin, the buzz of his breathing curiously loud amid the rattle and groan of the fan and air conditioner.
She closed her eyes, wondering, what now? Nothing suggested itself to her; she seemed content to lie there next to him. Didn’t she have to be somewhere? Somewhere important….
I’m dreaming, she decided. I’ve fallen asleep and I’m dreaming. I’ve dreamed some weird dreams before but this is the weirdest.
* * *
Gerald Jones opened his eyes and knew it was not a dream. He remembered everything. Falling in the bathroom in the transition barracks, the guys finding him, Sergeant Polk carrying him out to a borrowed jeep and bringing him to the motel where he had just had sex with Rodney or whatever his name was. It was all unbearably strange to him but he knew it had happened.
* * *
But I’m a woman now, she thought. How the heck could something so impossible be true? She ran a hand down her side, touching her hair, her breast, her belly, her sex.
It felt good.
She remembered the name Polk had given her and the black man lying beside her had called her that, too. Cheryl.
She could be Cheryl. She wouldn’t have to go to Viet Nam to kill or be killed. And it had been the first of those options that had bothered her most. Everyone dies, you have to count on that. But not everyone has to kill someone else. She had dreaded being faced with that but had known what she would have done. Killing the enemy to protect her friends, her fellow soldiers, would not have been easy but she could have done it. Would have done it.
Now she wouldn’t have to. She wouldn’t have to go to the jungle, carry a rifle, kill someone she didn’t even know. Or die there instead. She had prayed, Gerald Jones had prayed, that God would take that choice away.
He certainly does work in mysterious ways, she thought, bringing her hand up toward her face and finding Terry’s arm across her body.
“Babe,” a voice said in the dimness. “I’ve got to get up. My kid will be home now, wondering where I am.”
“What’s his name?” she asked. “What’s your name?” He’d told her once but she had forgotten that.
“He’s Clarence. I’m Terry. Terry Cook. I’m the night manager here.”
“Hmm,” she murmured.
He disentangled himself from her and sat on the edge of the bed to get his bearings. Then he stood, found his clothes and got dressed.
She watched him; the darkened room seemed clearly visible though it had color only near where light leaked in from the window or the bathroom.
He leaned down to give her a peck on the cheek and she giggled. Why, she couldn’t have said.
“Will you be back later?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he assured her before opening the door and stepping out into the sudden light.
“Thank you, God,” she said to her pillow before closing her eyes again.
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